3 Things that Don’t Suck about the Common Core Math Standards

We’ve all heard the complaints about Common Core math–from both parents and students. Here are 3 reasons why Common Core math is actually a GOOD thing for students.

Since the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), there’s been plenty of controversy, especially when it comes to math. Parents are talking about their dislike of the “new math,” while students scoff at the critical thinking they are being asked to do. While no set of standards will ever be perfect, here are three things that definitely don’t suck about Common Core math:

1. Learning progressions

The CCSS do a great job of building learning progressions through all K-12 grade levels so that each year students build on what they learned the year before and deepen those skills. One example is equations. In kindergarten through second grade, students use equations to represent addition and subtraction problems. This includes the decomposition of numbers in multiple ways (8 = 4+4 and 8 = 3+5), finding the missing number in an addition equation (3 + __ = 8), and writing equations from visual representations and word problems. In grades 3-5, these same ideas are extended to multiplication and division.

As students move into middle school, variables (x, y, z) are added to equations, and students use opposite operations to find the variable’s value. For example, students are asked to solve 3x + 4 = 8 for x. Students also learn equations in two variables where the result is a straight line graph (y = 3x – 2).

As students move through high school, their understanding of the concept of functions grows to include exponential (think money growing in your bank account), quadratic (functions that model the motion of an object being thrown in the air), and other types. This comprehension of math as it relates to real-world phenomena wouldn’t be possible without the basic understanding that the two sides of an equation are equal, which was established in elementary school.

2. Focusing not only on the how… but the why

I created this Wordle using the top 100 words in the CCSS math standards. The bigger the word, the more frequently it appears in the standards.

When this picture popped up, I was surprised at the sentence that emerged: “Understand problems using numbers and equations.” This is the foundation of the Common Core math standards. We want students to truly understand mathematics, not just be able to “do” it.

I also couldn’t help but notice the words that are not visible in this picture, such as do and compute. While there is a place in the standards for algorithms, such as putting numbers on top of one another and adding down, it’s not the focus. Other visible words that support the idea of understanding in this picture are explain, recognize, apply and represent. When students complete the progression of the standards, they will not just be able to do math but really understand it.

3. Developing 21st century skills

“Why can’t it just be done the way I learned?” is a question I hear often from parents regarding the CCSS. The fact is, our students aren’t growing up in the same world we did, and we owe it to them to prepare them for today’s society. Our students will likely be doing jobs that haven’t even been created yet!

So how do we prepare students for those jobs of the future? We teach them 21st-century skills such as problem solving, communication, and digital fluency. A colleague of mine, Rob Kriete, created an awesome visual representation of these skills for parents and teachers. The CCSS for math also include eight math practice standards which are habits of mind embedded within the instruction of the content standards. These are not standards that can be checked off a list–like being able to solve an equation–but are skills to be developed across all grade levels.  In these practice standards, students are asked to persevere in solving problems, construct arguments, critique others’ arguments, and use appropriate tools in problem-solving. Being able to do these things will prepare our students for success in college and careers–even the jobs that don’t exist yet.

Like I said before, no set of standards will ever be perfect. But I truly believe the CCSS for math are putting our students on the track for success in the world in which they live. That’s what we all want for our kids, right?

Lindsey Walborn is a high school math teacher in China Grove, NC, who has nine years of classroom experience and is working towards a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction. She has been a math department chair and currently leads a learning community for teachers of Math 3.  Lindsey is also a member of Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory and works closely with Student Achievement Partners.

  • Satinder Singh


    Enjoyed reading the article!  Love the visual representation of the 21st century!

  • Angela Napoliello-Ivory


    So glad to see post!  I agree with you completely.  There is so much incorrect information in social media about the CCSS, and some of it is astoundingly inaccurate.

  • SusanGraham

    Loved the Wordless!

    Loved the Wordle!  

    I noticed the word work , as in “Homework“,  “Work problems 1-14, ” and “Be sure to show your work,” didn’t show up. And that made me think about the most obvious synonym for work which is labor. Imagine assigning “Home Labor“, “Labor over problems 1-14″ and “Be sure to show your labor“. 

    Yes, there is a huge difference in doing math and using math to solve problems!


    • Sheila Fisher

      Love the analogy! 

      Love the analogy! 

  • Joanne Johansson

    Math Intervention
    Right on the mark! Great commentary on the CCSS that people are not talking about and should be! I too love the Wordle. I hope other teachers can adjust to the changes so that all students are learning this way!

  • TriciaEbner

    Yes, yes, yes!!!

    I’m going to put on my mom hat for a minute and share what I’ve seen in my third grader, who has been working under CCSS math (or transitioning to it) since kindergarten:

    1. He has different strategies for solving the same kinds of problems. For example, in multiplying two- and three-digit numbers, he will use lattice or partial products. I never learned lattice until he taught me a few months ago (and that was a fun moment for us both!), and I don’t recall ever doing partial products. I had the standard “line the numbers one below the other, start with the ones . . .” So he can take a problem and decide which strategy works best, and DO IT. 

    2. He “gets it” in ways I never did. Yeah, I didn’t get the whole “let’s add the hundreds column, then the tens column, then the ones column” thing he did for a couple of days in second grade as homework. But when I asked a colleague, “Why do this?”, she responded with, “He’s working on solidifying place values. They’ll switch it to ones-tens-hundreds addition in another day or two.” So not only does he have strategies, he knows WHY. (And he has not tried to do a triple-digit addition problem by adding hundreds column first, since then.)

    3. Biggest reason math has come under fire so much: many of us grown-ups fear math. We’re the ones who start off parent-teacher conferences with, “I was never good in math.” Yet we want to be good parents and help our children and support them . . . so when it looks unfamiliar, and we already lack confidence in our own skills, the easiest thing to do is say, “What was wrong with the way we learned it?” Maybe in another generation, us “nearing retirement” teachers won’t hear as many young parents saying, “I was never good in math . . .” because they’ll have not only the skills but the concepts. 

    Thanks for sharing so well the good stuff in the math standards. 

  • Kevin

    The only parent that think

    The only parent that think Common Core Math isn't terrible are the ones who sucked at math and never understood it in the first place.

    We're going to have a country of morons that can't do simple math in their heads.

  • Breyoung

    Thank you for your well

    Thank you for your well-written blog article. I enjoyed it very much. I’m a college student that is currently studying the Common Core Standards that seem to be to be an ongoing topic of controversy and whether it is the best and most balanced way to eduacate students in the United States. Here is what I have learned during my research. The educational standards implemented by Common Core were intended to set standards that would get all of the students in America on the same page in preparation for college and the workforce while preparing them to compete with their peers on an international level. Because of inequities in the public school system, the Common Core initiative is coordinated in such a way that students across the United States are held to the same degree of expectations rather than the inconsistent measurements of success at each grade level that were in place prior to the Common Core Standards. Students benefit because they now have better quality instructional resources. They are given the opportunity to master the subject matter before moving on to the next. It is more focused on the quality of the learning rather than the quantity. Teachers now have the ability to collaborate across state lines in order to share materials and lesson plans. Many teachers are also discovering that the new standards are resulting in more focused professional development. Thank you for sharing your perspective and experience. I find it very helpful as a “future teacher”.